The Death of Print

At the end of the 20th century, critics were complaining that no one was reading anymore and that the novel was dead. JK Rowling had a lot to do with proving those critics wrong, almost single handidly resurrecting genre fiction, as every kid on the globe waited anxiously for the release of the next Harry Potter. But it was really blogging and the social networking sites of this decade that have resurrected writing, or at least proved that we are still interested in reading. But how we read is changing, there is no doubt about that.Stephen King’s introduction to the 2007 edition of Best American Short Stories, caused a chill in the online community, with 72 blogs debating his pronouncement that short stories were dead.

Among many possible causes of death (the corpse being too mangled to say for sure what killed it) King identifies: “Writers write for whatever audience is left. In too many cases, that audience happens to consist of other writers and would-be writers who are reading the various literary magazines . . . not to be entertained but to get an idea of what sells there. And this kind of reading isn’t real reading. . . . It’s more like copping-a-feel reading. There’s something yucky about it.”

Sean Meriweather, editor of Velvet Mafia said something else that struck a chord.

“While print media may be struggling to stay alive, and small and mid-list publishers are disappearing as costs become unmanageable, many writers have found an alternative… Fiction isn’t dying—print is.”

Can the Internet really save the short story? Sure it’s a lot cheaper and more immediate, but what does it mean for the quality of stories and writing in general? There are already tons of publications online, ranging from the truly amateur to ones with stricter quality control featuring more established writers.On one hand I am happy that more and more people are reading and writing stories online. If you doubt me just look at the number of social media sites like Myspace, Facebook and Twitter that feature budding writers. On the other, I am critical and hard to please when it comes to my literary tastes.  I am not going to apologize for that.  I am eager to see how contemporary fiction will be sold, promoted and distributed when there is such an inconsistent measure in the quality of online books. How will I be able to find what I like when stories, novels, writing critiques, blogs on writing, blogs on blogging, blogs on nothing, are all sitting together on the same platform? Too many choices, as we’ve seen in the information age, isn’t always such a good thing.Still, I am interested to see what happens with online publishing and whether it will evolve into something useful. I also wonder what my place will be in the scheme of things. What are your thoughts?

6 Comments

  1. I must admit, I’ve never been all that much of a short story reader (or writer), but from what I’ve seen King’s statement is pretty badly informed. Okay, so the mainstream publishers may not be publishing them — but small independents, small presses etc. certainly are. I can’t comment on their quality, but the reviews quite often seem to be favourable.In more general terms, I’m very fussy in my reading. It takes a lot to hold my interest these days, and reading fiction online etc. seldom works for me…. As for the changes that are occurring in publishing — I tend to think there will always be format choices. Something that at least “feels” like a physical book will always exist, but the “data” will be downloaded the way music is (this already happens, of course, but the “book” will eventually become far more book-like.)Sorting the choices will be vital, but I don’t think it’ll be as difficult as you think. If you found my blog, I’m sure you’ll be able to find something else that’s good to downloade onto your book-emulator and read. 🙂

  2. Funnily enough, I had a discussion recently with someone who said she thought the short-story market was more for writers than readers. Unfortunately a straw poll of people I know (who enjoy reading) seemed to confirm it. They DON’T read short stories…unless it’s a collection by an author they like (Kate Atkinson, Alice Munro, etc.) I didn’t know what to say to that.Re: online publishing, I think in future authors who have enough talent and determination are going to be pursuing alternative publishing opportunities, like mad, and that is a Good Thing.

  3. Don

    @Gary Murning: From what I have been discovering, the three main short story magazines readership has been going down. These magazines can be picked up at nearly any store that sells magazines.

  4. I’m not sure how available short story magazines are in UK high street stores (I haven’t checked), but I’d suspect it’s a worse situation than it is in Canada, where I believe you are. I was, however, thinking more of publications like TTA, which generally arrive through the mail, and anthologies such as those published by Legend.

  5. msmilie

    I think of books as I do records, CDs, etc. I want something that I can reach out and touch. I think the internet has been great for establishing communities of writers from various backgrounds and providing an arena for cats like me who sit in a corner of a small apartment in Anytown USA to get their voice out there. But what of the old exhilaration of having a book published or your story published in a magazine and having it right there in front of you? What of handing out copies to family and friends and basking in that moment? I don’t think sending friends and family a link is quite the same feeling.Having a story published or an album of songs recorded and released always seemed to me like a great accomplishment. The internet is wide open – anyone can literally do anything – so I have to question if having your work published online offers the same sense of accomplishment?

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